Jung writes, “What is real is that which has real effects.” In our rigid three-dimensional conscious constructs, we tend to define reality as that which is concrete and tangible, excluding anything of a spiritual nature. Yet, the spiritual has real effects. Even a cursory self-reflection will confirm the validity of Jung’s statement. The spiritual is real.
When I was growing up, it was the custom in our small Catholic community to pray the rosary as part of a funeral wake. The effect on my young self was extreme boredom mixed with wonderment that adults behaved this way. However, in thinking about this ritual as an adult, I can see the real effects of rote recitation and meditation on the mysteries of the rosary—the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious. What human life hasn’t been touched by joy, sorrow, and glory? What resonances are set up in the depths of the souls of the living? What evokes the sacredness of life like those intoned prayers, drawing mourners into an unconscious unity of spirit? Who knows what the effects were on those people around me? On me? Surely it had at least as much impact as an invisible wind rustling through trees.
The psychological impact of formal prayer is that it tends to align consciousness with semi-conscious, established patterns that have served humankind well for a very long time. For a consciousness mired in some less-than-healthy unconscious pattern, prayer can be a way of getting “unstuck.” The mysteries of the rosary are built on New Testament stories which recount the life story of one of the most developed personalities in human history, someone fully individuated, i.e., who completely realized both the human and the spiritual dimensions of existence.
For another example of invisible effects, consider gazing on a full moon. Even thinking about the image of a full moon right now conjures up emotion, memory, awe, and mystery. I rarely look at a full moon without wondering about peoples over millennia who saw this same sight, who relied on it to mark the passage of time, to know when to move or to harvest crops; who began to associate it with the cycle of a woman’s life and the mysterious absence of the cycle with an impending birth, to predict the movements of the tides, even eventually to know when to celebrate the Paschal Mystery itself. What knowledge the spirit of the moon has imparted to humanity over the ages! What knowledge does the physical world hold, awaiting a consciousness sufficiently capacious to apprehend it?
If you haven’t seen the movie, “Moonstruck,” I urge you to rent and watch it. It will awaken some spiritual awareness without ever touching on anything religious or dogmatic. I would argue that we are all a bit moonstruck and it would do us well to recognize and celebrate it.
Whenever anything intangible and haunting is evoked in us, whether it be in seeing the flag, in hearing a moving poem, in playing and replaying a song in our minds, in being visited by the memory of a deceased loved one, or in a thousand other ways in which a current experience ties us back to an old memory trace, we experience the movement of an invisible spirit.
A favorite poem of mine is “elegy” by W.S. Merwyn:
who would i tell it to
That simple sentence, sans capitalization or punctuation, always evokes such depth of emotion in me that I know it brings me into solidarity with every other human being who has grieved in ways beyond language or explanation. Why is it that the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ opening line, “Margaret, are you grieving over goldengrove unleaving,” pops into my mind frequently and at odd times? I can only conclude that there is some unseen but very real force at work in my being. It is a force of some power, and it is arresting.
Of course, in our romance-besotted modern life, no one among us would deny the effects of love or its life-changing, life-enhancing power. Yet, few of us would identify love as a spirit, but in the truest sense of the word, it is spiritual. And in the sense that Jung defines “real,” it is real. “What I did for Love” is more than a lovely song; it is a testament to the power of love.
Jung was interested in the psychology of the human person and in the ways reality, seen and unseen, can call forth richness of experience and wholeness of personality. Whether we approach the spiritual through a formal religion or through a religious, reverent attitude toward the people and the world within and around us matters little. What is important, from a psychological point of view, is that we not neglect all of experience.
To live in a reality that consists only of things, one that must be explained by cause and effect is to live in a carved-out, desiccated existence. To live in a world of things is to see and understand people and ourselves only as objects to be manipulated and managed. To live in a strict cause-and-effect universe is to miss perhaps the largest parts of existence, the parts that respond to mythic patterns, the forces that, rather than pushing us from the past, are pulling us into the future.
It is a basic tenet of Analytical (Jungian) Psychology that we as conscious moderns have a responsibility to understand the spiritual forces that move us as best we can, learn to cooperate with those that are benevolent, and resist those that are not. External authority, while important for civil living, can also lead us very much in undesirable directions if it is not reconciled with the individual spirits that inhabit all of us.
A careful reflection about spiritual forces leads me to conclude that there are a myriad of invisible agencies that have very real effects and that are shaping our lives, our relationships, and our actions in unknown and sometimes undesirable ways. What our individual and collective futures become is, in no small part, of our own choosing and attitude toward the real.